[Gifted] Sometimes the Universe just wants you to do something.

This self-post was originally posted to /r/Random_Acts_Of_Amazon. See more things from Dan's Reddit account.

tl;dr: First time here, clicked Wishlist Search, and it suggested the person whose song I was listening to at the time. Spooky as hell.

So here’s what happened to me today. Feeling unwell – bit of a cold and grumpy about it – and sipping a Lemsip to try to stave off the worst of the sore throat, I found myself stalking a few people on Reddit, discovering new subreddits based on what they’ve commented in etc., and I discover /r/Random_Acts_Of_Amazon.

I put on some music while I surf – just a selection of MP3s that I’ve bought recently. The song that’s just come on is Peter Hollens’ and Malukah’s awesome cover of Christopher Tin’s Baba Yetu (better known as the “Civ IV theme”). If you haven’t heard their cover of it yet, here it is on YouTube.

“Random Acts of Amazon?” I think to myself, “What’s that all about then?” I read a little bit of the newbie guide, then try clicking on the “Random Wishlist” button, just to see who it picks out for me and what kinds of things they want. It picks out a random user… /u/peterhollens.

Wait, what? That’s got to just be a naming coincidence, right? That can’t be the same Peter Hollens whose song literally just started coming out of my MP3 player right now, can it? I hop across to his intro thread and read some of his other posts. “What the fuck,” I say out loud, “Is this random wishlist tool psychic or something?”

But no, it just turns out that on the one and only time I’ve ever been to this sub, and the one and only time I’ve ever clicked Random Wishlist, it happened to choose the person whose song I was literally just listening to at that time. That’s insane.

So here’s a gift, Peter. Clearly the Universe wants me to send this to you. I don’t believe in destiny, but clearly it believes in you and I.

Ice and Lemon

I recently finished reading a novel called Ice & Lemon, which was given to me by my mother for Christmas (my reading list is quite long at the moment; I’m only just getting close to catching up!). I could tell you about what I liked about the book – and I will, in a moment – but before that I’d like to mention what makes this book personally so spooky to me, as a reader.

Ice and Lemon, by Pete Hartley
Ice and Lemon, by Pete Hartley

My mother got it for me because the coincidences apparent on the front and back cover appealed to her:

  1. The author’s name, Pete Hartley, is remarkably similar to my father’s name, Peter Huntley.
  2. The strapline contains a date, and that date is my mother’s birthday.
  3. The protagonist of the story is called Daniel, which is – prior to that point in the late 1990s when I started going by Dan among virtually everybody – my name.
  4. The front cover shows a picture of a baby’s hand, and Ruth‘s expected delivery date of New Year’s Eve was thus a hot discussion topic for us all around Christmas-time.

Okay, so – that’s a handful of quirky coincidences, certainly, but I’m sure if you looked at every volume in a bookshop – in the right frame of mind – you’d find a dozen other novels that seemed similarly fortuitous. But as I began to read the story, I discovered that I shared a lot more in common with the story’s Daniel than I could have possibly predicted. It was almost as if I were reading an alternate-history version of my own life – it’s incredibly easy to see how believable choices made in the early 2000s could have lead to a reality that even-more closely paralleled with my own:

Dan with a golden banana nailed to a stick.
In 2006, I won an award of dubious value for my stand-up act: a gold-plated banana nailed to a plank of wood hewn from the funniest tree in town.
  • Daniel’s partner is called Claire. In 2005, when the story is set, I too had a partner called Claire.
  • Daniel grew up in, and lives in, Preston, near to the football stadium and his local supermarket, the Deepdale Road/Sir Tom Finney Way Sainsburys. I grew up in Preston, and my parents houses are both within sight of the football stadium. My father used to, and my mother still does, do their shopping at the Deepdale Road/Sir Tom Finney Way Sainsburys.
  • The story begins with Daniel travelling back from a trip to Spain. I too spent time in Spain in 2005.
  • Daniel is a stand-up comedian and a veteran of the Edinburgh Fringe. I had an incredibly-short career as a stand-up comedian, and of course I too have a history with the Fringe.
  • Some time after an apocalyptic event takes place, Daniel joins a group of survivors who call themselves “Camp Q” (no explanation is given for the choice of name). Some time after the date of the event as it appears in the story, I changed my surname to Q.
The Sainsburys on Deepdale Road/Sir Tom Finney Way, in Preston.
Before the apocalypse, Daniel did his shopping here. Before I moved to Aberystwyth, so did I.

There are about a hundred smaller coincidences in Daniel’s story, too, but after a few of them you stop looking objectively and you can’t help but see them, so I’ll spare you the list. If I wanted to, I’m sure I could find plenty of things that definitely didn’t fit me: for example, Daniel’s significantly older than me. That sort of blows the alternate history idea out of the water. But nonetheless, it was a disturbing and eerie experience to be reading about a protagonist so much like myself, travelling around a post-disaster area that I personally know so very well. I feel like I ought to reach out to the author and check that he’s not just pranking me, somehow. His son features in the book, but somehow the coincidences that naturally occur as a result of this are less-impressive because they’re pre-informed.

The book itself is pretty good: a soft science fiction story full of a thorougly-explored post-apocalyptic grief. Very human, and very British, it exemplifies that curious sense of humour that we as a nation exhibit in the face of a disaster, while still being emotionally-scarring in the sheer scope of the tragedy it depicts. The science of the science-fiction is… questionable, but it’s not explored in detail (and it’s only treated as being speculative by the characters discussing it anyway, who aren’t scientists): this is a story about people, suffering, and survival, not about technology nor futurism. There are a handful of points at which it feels like it could have done with an additional pass by a proofreader; while occasionally distracting, these typos are not problematic. Plus: the book contains the most literal deus ex machina I’ve ever encountered (and thankfully, it doesn’t come across as lazy writing so much as general wasteland craziness).

It’sunder £3 in ebook format, and if I didn’t already own a paperback copy, I’d be happy to pay that for it. Even if it didn’t make me feel like I was looking at an alternate version of myself.

Ice and Lemon, by Pete Hartley×

Another Crazy Connection

Remember about three weeks ago when I re-met a Bodleian Libraries employee whom I’d first met many years ago? And then went on to meet their friend, who turned out to have been somebody with whom I’d been trying to schedule a meeting anyway!

Well today I had that meeting (and was formally introduced to my friend-of-a-friend). And when I got back, I found the following (edited, here) email in my Inbox:

Hi Dan,

You may remember me from such RT requests as #1234567. I have an inkling that we may also have met (if you attended) at the National Nightline^W^WNightline Association AGM in Leeds a couple of years back. I used to be a Nightline volunteer at Oxford.



This chap works for the Computing Services department of the University, and as a result he’s been helping to deal with my (many, many) tickets and request-for-change forms as I’ve tried to get access to all of the systems to which I’ve needed access. And recognised me, apparently.

It’s a crazy, crazy small world.

A Small World Conspiracy

I keep getting caught up on small world coincidences, since I started working at the Bodleian Library last week. I know about selective biases, of course, and I’ve always said that coincidences happen nine times out of ten, but this is really starting to feel like some kind of amazing conspiracy that I’ve somehow wandered into.

The most recent chain of connected coincidences is also probably the most impressive. But to explain it, I’ll need to take you back in time by almost three years. Back in the summer of 2008, I went to BiCon for the second time, accompanied by Claire and Matt P. Among the various other things we got up to, we met a young lady called Ann (who, if I remember rightly, got along very well with Matt).

This morning I received an email from Ann. It turns out that she works in the Bodleian Libraries: she’s likely to be one of the very users who it’s now my job to provide training and technical support to! She saw my photograph in the newsletter I mentioned in my last blog post and looked me up: small world! I emailed back, suggesting that we get together for a drink after work, and she agreed: great! She also asked if she could bring a friend along, a colleague from the library. Sure, I said, sounds good.

This lunchtime I sorted out some of my holiday entitlement for the rest of this academic year. I booked off a few days for a Three Rings “code week” in the summer, and a couple of days around the time that I’ll be moving house next month. One of these days clashed with a meeting that I’d had planned with the Web/Digital Officer of one of the libraries (I’m doing a grand tour of many of the libraries that comprise the Bodleian, in order to meet all the relevant people), so I sent an email to this staff member to ask if we could reschedule our meeting to another time.

“Okay,” they said, “But I think I’m meeting you in the pub in 90 minutes anyway…”

It turns out that the person whose meeting I’ve asked to reschedule is the friend of the person who recognised me from the staff newsletter, having originally met me three years ago. Out of all of the people (I’m not sure how many exactly – it’s probably in the staff handbook I haven’t read yet – but I’ll bet it’s a lot) that are employed by this, the largest university library in the UK, what are the odds?

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #48:

Discover, by sheer coincidence, that one of your more recent aquaintances down here (Claire) went to the same high school as one of your longer-running friends up North (Faye), and that they know one another! Freaky but completely true: the two parties are contactable on storm_lady0@yahoo.com and clb9@aber.ac.uk, for verification!

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #8:

Lose a pair of shoes by leaving them outside your door and finding them missing the following morning. Then find another pair you’ve never seen before underneath your bed.

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.